While one may expect that technology has made it easier for people to book their own travel, 87 per cent of tour operators working in the adventure travel industry currently work with travel agents, according to new research report published by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA).
Tour operators reported being primarily motivated to work with travel agents because they offer a new sales channel. Trevor Saxty, president of Explore, said the company began using travel agents more than 30 years ago to expand the company’s distribution efforts in order to reach the widest possible range of travellers.
“Our primary interest in working with agents is to partner with them to grow their business and ours by connecting new travellers with the experiences we offer and then keep them coming back year after year,” he said.
Findings from ATTA’s Travel Leaders Companion Survey Digest support the importance these relationships have in promoting financial growth. Though less than 30 per cent of sales come through agents, 63 per cent of tour operators have experienced growth through the agent channel.
Perhaps it’s to be expected that well-established tour operators – those in business before online booking even existed – continue to tap into the expertise of travel agents. However, it’s not only seasoned tour operators utilising travel agency services. “We partnered with STA Travel from the very beginning two years ago,” said Bruce Haxton, managing director of The Tuk Tuk Club, an operator based in Northern Thailand.
“The simple reason is that it allows us to gain a reach for our adventures that would be incredibly difficult – and expensive – to do so under our own steam. A good travel agent, and a global one like STA, can get us in front of so many more eyes than we could directly.”
With access to this new channel comes credibility as well – another reason tour operators reported working with travel agents.
Haxton noted the recognition of a travel agent like STA can boost customer confidence when booking with a new tour operator. Travel agents also add a personal touch both during the buying experience and during their travels. “We pride ourselves in personalised trips,” said Ryan Connolly of Hidden Iceland.
While tour operators are interested in booking through travel agents, there is still a continued need for mutual education and understanding to address the complexity of these transactions.
Commenting on the complexities, Connolly said: “Once we have one successful trip with a travel agent, the relationship has been created. When we receive feedback from their customers that they had a wonderful time, we now have an advocate for our company, which can use their network to emulate future trips… And the more trips we run with them, the clearer an image they have on how we work and it can streamline the whole process.”